I have a confession to make. I am an addict. Yes. An addict. A sugar addict. Oh you’re thinking a self-claimed addict like a “chocoholic?” No. I mean a real life drug addict. You see, sugar is a drug, just like alcohol, cocaine or nicotine. As the movie Hungry for Change puts it, “sugar is the cocaine of the food world.”
Why are we addicted to sugar?
Sugar releases an opiate-like substance that activates the brain’s reward system. In turn, this increases our desire for sugar and sweetened things. Ask yourself this question: when you eat a cookie, can you have just one cookie or does it always lead to more? Yeah. Now you know what I’m talking about.
Because of its addicting qualities, we consume an immense amount of sugar. The average person consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, and 150 POUNDS of sugar a year. I don’t know about you but that’s more than my body weight. Gross!
Where does all this sugar come from?
Primarily from added sugars. Here are some facts:
- There are over 2600 food additives. Salt is #1 and sugar is #2
- Added sugar alone accounts for approximately 500 calories every day
- Almost half of the yearly sugar intake is from high fructose corn syrup (i.e. soft drinks)
- Carbonated soft drinks are the largest source of refined sugar in the American diet
- Americans drink 53 gallons of soft drinks per person every year
- The average can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar
- Many foods contain hidden sugar: ketchup, premade hotdogs and hamburgers, peanut butter, salad dressings, mayo, french fries, pasta sauces, the list goes on!
- BEWARE: “low-fat” foods use all kinds of sugar to enhance flavor!
Besides addiction, does refined sugar have any other negative effects?
Refined sugar has been linked to:
- Skin breakouts (refined sugar impairs liver function which can lead to skin issues)
- Tooth decay (refined sugar makes the digestive system acidic, which leaches vitamins and minerals from the body, particularly calcium from bones and teeth).
- Cardiovascular disease (refined sugar depletes the body of potassium and magnesium, which are both essential for cardiac health.)
- Mood swings, personality changes, irritability
- Inhibits blood flow and affects aging, contributing to dental issues, increased wrinkles and dried, aged skin
- Consuming refined sugar depletes the body of B vitamins. Vitamin B deficiency causes symptoms like heart palpitations, chronic fatigue, paranoia, anxiety, insomnia, difficulty focusing, restlessness, indigestion, rashes and cravings for sugar
So you’re saying I should cut out all refined sugar from my diet?
Ideally, yes. If you’re still not totally sold, take this into consideration. Again in the movie Hungry for Change, Dr. Christiane Northrup notes that serving kids chocolate milk in schools is equivalent to injecting them with heroin, because the addiction effects are the same. Schools are getting the kids addicted and/or feeding their addiction! You wouldn’t inject your child with any illicit drug (I certainly hope not anyways!), so how is feeding them a drug any different??! Not to mention, refined sugar has absolutely NO nutritional value. It is simply empty calories.
Will I go through withdrawal if I remove sugar from my diet?
Without question! Quitting sugar is no different than quitting something like smoking. You will experience classic withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, irritability, headaches and aches and pains.
Will it get better?
Absolutely! (With time of course!) I find it much easier to refrain from eating sugar if it’s simply not around. As a university student I don’t really have excess money to spend on unnecessary items like candy and chocolate so I simply don’t buy it. If it’s not in my house then I can’t eat it!
Of course it is hard to avoid sugar 100% of the time, for example birthdays and family get-togethers. You will have to use your own discretion as to whether you choose to indulge in a sweet or not, and if so, how far you’re willing to take it (i.e. one brownie or five), knowing how easy it can be to get addicted again. Sweets eventually cease to be a part of your daily diet and instead become occasional “treats,” which makes them all the more special and delectable when you do indulge!
Are YOU addicted to sugar?
Read part two of this “sweet trilogy” – Artificial Sweeteners
Read part three of this “sweet trilogy” – Natural Sweeteners